Breeding Variety: Seed Production for the Small Farmer – July 9, 2015

Cloud Mountain Farm Center, Everson, WA

Eleven farmers and farm interns gathered at Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s incubator farm site to learn about plant breeding and seed production. The all-day workshop played host to three fantastic experts in the field. Louisa Winkler (PhD graduate student, Washington State University) spoke about the basics of plant breeding and her work with breeding oats for the Pacific Northwest. Tom Wagner (independent plant breeder) awed everyone with his immense knowledge of breeding thousands of varieties of potato and tomato. Finally, Jessica Babcock (Greenbank Farm Training Center) shared information regarding the basic process of growing vegetable seed and the use of different seed cleaning equipment.

Louisa started the day by explaining common plant breeding terms and techniques. Though she works with oat breeding (she has a variety trial at the Cloud Mountain site), the principles of working with plant genetics to create new plant varieties with desirable traits are translatable across all cultivated crops. Tom then lent his experience as a private of “free breeder”, of which he is in his 62nd year of plant breeding. Tom showed attendees the dozens of potato varieties he had growing on site – varieties that he has developed himself. He explained the process of collecting potato seed – whether from the tuber or from the potato berry (though 85% of potatoes don’t set a seed berry). It was fascinating to see all the different morphologies of the humble potato plant and having an expert describe the breeding process right in the field!

Later in the day, Tom also shared his experience with tomato breeding and gave attendees seeds to plant themselves. Tom believes in holding on to and creating plant diversity as a means to acquire a variety of desirable characteristics. He also works to ensure diversity to promote sustainable production systems. Tom is currently working with growers in Bhutan to help them breed plants for a 100% organic production system. Jessica presented on the different variety trials and seed growing contracts that Greenbank Farm complete. She spoke to the basics of growing vegetable plants for seed and the various tools and resources available to growers interested in this avenue.
At the end of the day, attendees went back into the field to learn from a current farmer at Cloud Mountain’s incubator on methods for pollinating heirloom corn. It was great to end the day in the field, in a hands-on way!

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Summary by Angela Anegon

This workshop funded in part by a grant from the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.